Wednesday, January 30, 2008

A Series of Vignettes

I am a scientist (I think I can claim that even as a grad student, right?). I am a lady scientist. You see, I grew up in, what I affectionately refer to as, The Sticks. This particular region of The Sticks, however, was located in The South. For those of you not blessed to be from this particular locale, I will translate what this implies. (Translation) Two things are expected from females: (1) to be A Lady and (2) to land a man. I could write a very long treatise as to my true feelings on this, but I think it's better illustrated in a series of vignettes.

In 4th grade at The Sticks Elementary School. We were making homemade flashlights to illustrate how to complete a circuit. Mine was not working.

Mr. Fourth Grade Teacher: I found the problem. Here you go.
Young Amanda: What was wrong with it?
Mr. FGT: One wire wasn't making contact with the battery.
Young Amanda: So, is this how a light switch works?
Mr. FGT: Yes.
Young Amanda: But I thought we had electricity. Does the light switch stop the electricity? (Obviously, I did not completely grasp the electricity concept)
Mr. FGT: No.
Young Amanda: Then, what does that do?
Mr. FGT: Don't worry about it. You don't need to understand that; your husband will handle those bills.

The Sticks Middle School, Career Day. Signing up for sessions with different professionals.

Awkward-aged Amanda: I want to talk with the doctor.
Ms. Middle School Parent: Ok, there's still room in the nurse group. I'll sign you up.
Awkward-aged Amanda: No, the doctor group. There's still room in that, right?
Ms. MSP: Yes, but I would prefer to save those spaces for the boys who want to be doctors.
Awkward-aged Amanda: But why?

The Sticks High School. Two Weeks Before Graduation.

18- year old Amanda: Hey, Male Friend! How's it going?
Male Friend: Good. You know you don't have to go to college, right?
18-YO Amanda: Yeah...
MF: I know that [Boyfriend At The Time] is not being... proper. I don't think that's right. I'll help you.
18-YO Amanda: Huh?
MF: I know that we are not together. But I want you to know that I am going to make a good living and you will be provided for?
18-YO Amanda: Umm... what are you talking about?
MF: Amanda, I'll marry you.
18-YO Amanda: Uh, MF, that's very nice of you to offer. But I really do want to go to college.
MF (relieved): Oh ok. Are you sure?
18-YO Amanda: Yep.
(I'm not that cold-hearted. We continued talking after this.)

I may have gone to college, majored in chemistry, and want to work (even though I have "a man."), but I contend that it does not make me any less of A Lady. Even though, my hometown may want to disown me.


Brigindo said...

I'm a new reader but I wanted to say these vignettes are priceless.

EcoGeoFemme said...

Wow, those are truly awful. It's just amazing that people had that mindset so recently, and that it probably persists. We'll show them!

Amanda said...

Brigindo: I'm glad to meet you and find your blog. :-)

EcoGeoFemme: It definitely does persist. My parents tell people about my career/recent paper and all the people back home want to know is when I'll procreate! Sigh.

ScienceGirl said...

Hm... I am wondering if I am actually in The Sticks. Your description is eerily accurate.

Amanda said...

Sciencegirl: There are many regions of The Sticks. There are three ways to figure out if you are in The Sticks:
1. Is some minor metropolis referred to as "The City?" As in we're going to The City to see a movie.
2. Do people say: "I could do that." when referring to a profession like lawyer, scientist, or surgeon?
3. Do you get told, on a regular basis by people you barely know, that you can't do something based on your gender?

If you've answered yes to at least one of the above, then you are living in The Sticks.

ScienceGirl said...

Thought so.

Alexis said...

Hm, this is not specific to the Sticks+the South, I think it is specific to both (in other words, if, like me, you grew up in both a semi-Southern metropolis and a non-Southern Sticks, you experienced this in both places).

Some stories I remember:
When I was little, my grandmother used to tell me "little girls should be seen and not heard" a lot. When I was in tenth grade, a good friend told me that for all of ninth grade she thought I was a mute. This is in spite of the fact that I ate at the same table as her every day for the entire ninth grade year.

In this same high school we had to wear uniforms, and I had to wear skirts every day (blech). My hair was very long. But, I would not describe my younger self as especially feminine, and I never wore makeup or did my hair up - I usually just wore it straight or in a pony tail. I was using the phone one day and the headmaster's wife looked straight at me (in my skirt and with my long hair) and called me "young man."

My papou used to insist that I take a typing class because I would need to know how to type when I became a secretary. This was while I was in college. Also, every time we would talk on the phone he would insist that I call the Georges (some family I did not know but that he had some distant association with) because I should marry their son, who was a rich "hair."

Amanda said...

Alexis: Sigh. I was hoping that only at the intersection of the two (The Sticks + The South) this happened.

saxifraga said...

WTF and great post Thanks for sharing your stories. The gender equality in my world is much more subtle and hidden and like ecogeofemme I'm surprised and saddened this way of thinking is still so common. I just found your blog (via scientiae and this post) and look forward to coming back

Alexis said...

Yes, Amanda, I would like to hope that, too. The good news is that I make my own rules now. The bad news...well. Anyway.

Amelie said...

wow. It sounds like your parents were/are supportive, though, and that's very helpful.

Amanda said...

saxifraga: Nice to meet you. I'm jealous... I've always wanted to go to the Artic.

Amelie: My parents were both very supportive. They always told me to do what I wanted and ignore all the nay-sayers.

Anfa said...

Many of the same attitudes were prevalent in the north as well.
I literally did have a science teacher (a nun who purportedly had a PhD and who idolized Watson & Crick)give us a lecture on not wearing patent leather shoes because boys could see your underwear reflected in them and think impure thoughts.
On our career day, girls stood in line to be asked if we wanted to be a nun, a nurse, a secretary, a teacher or a mother. I was thinking "None of the above" but I said nurse because it involved science. Last year I was in a clinical rotation for my PharmD when my mother was hospitalized. My preceptors howled when I shared that Mom introduced me to the hospital staff as "Half a nurse" and informed them I had dropped out of nursing school. Standing in a white coat with a hospital ID four months shy of a doctorate was not enough proof that I can be credible because I dropped out of nursing school in 1975 to get a degree in science.
At least I can show pictures of my kids to shut her up.

Labness said...

My family and I are originally from an Eastern European Country (and I am slightly Jewish). The expectations for me as a girl were not quite the same as yours growing up in The Sticks. I could be seen and heard, so long as it was cute and smart.

I was expected to have good grades, go to university, and become (a) doctor - a nice job for a smart girl, especially if I specialized in something to do with kids or the elderly.
(b) lawyer - family law is nice.
(c) accountant - a nice, 9-5, calm job.
(d) piano teacher - a clean job, always busy. Can be done from home.

I am an undergrad in Biology, and hope to get as many degrees as they'll let me.

Mama Labness' latest suggestion:

"Well, science is dangerous. Chemicals can make your hair fall out, and your hands to be cracked and dry. Oh, you should be a nutritionist. You can use all that science to have a well-paying part-time job when you have kids! Isn't that a great idea?!"

What say you to this? What were the "nice, good jobs for little girls" in The Sticks? Besides Secretarial Sciences?

Amanda said...

Labness: Hi! I'm glad that I found your blog. It sounds like you've got a lot going on in your life right now! As for proper careers, they include, in no particular order (with snide comments in parenthesis):
-Nurse (Practical for when you have children)
-Teacher ("Oh and you're so smart!")
-Waitress (Good until you meet a man. Plus, tips!)
-Hair Stylist (Well, someone has to cut a woman's hair. Plus you're so good with your hands.)
-Umm... I'm running out of acceptable jobs here...
- Mother!